Pan fried cod cheeks with caper and lemon butter

Before I had kids, I used to take great pleasure in idling around my local town centre on market day. An hour or two could happily be spent browsing the bounty on offer.

I’d contentedly saunter around the veg stalls, eyeing up the seasonal produce, spending time surveying and handling the treasures and chatting with the sellers about their bounty. I’d move indoors to the fish market and gawp at the vast array of seafood (half of which I couldn’t identify), watching with fascination and awe as the fishmongers would skillfully fillet and descale whole fish with ease.


My favourite place of all, however,was the meat market. It was like a consortium of animal parts, some familiar,some unrecognisable. The assault on the senses was breathtaking,with screeching and hollering, dismembered carcasses and the distinctive (but not unpleasant) smell of raw meat.


For this self confessed foodie, it was bliss.

Then the munchkins came along and my self indulgent, prolonged wanderings had to end.

Now don’t get me wrong. These kids were much wanted and are an incredible blessing in my life. Every day I thank God for giving me my two little smiling, dribbling, giggling miracles. Every day I’m amazed at how a yogurty, toothless grin or a sticky little hand clenched in mine can bring so much joy to my life.

Well, every day except market day.

Trying to negotiate the myriad of stalls, looking for a great deal on veg or attempting to garner fish preparation skills is nigh on impossible when you have a screaming baby who hates detests being stationary and a toddler whose incessant “mummy, wassat?” questions drown out all other conversations you may wish to have.


I still make an effort to visit my local market, mainly because I still love to purchase food there, but also because I’m keen for my kids to see a world of fresh food outside the plastic-wrapped, mass produced,sanitised supermarket offerings. I just make a list and am very efficient with my trips now.

This recipe was devised on an unusual occasion when the baby was asleep and the boy was oddly compliant (unnerving to say the least). I took the opportunity to browse the fish market and stumbled upon some cod cheek which I’d always wanted to try, and are incredibly inexpensive. Thankfully, the kids were quiet enough for me to have a productive discussion with the fishmonger about the best way to cook them.

The beauty of cod cheeks isn’t just their economy, but as with most animals, (or fish) this cut is uniquely tender, and particularly lean. The closest comparison I could make to something better known is tenderloin. Don’t let the lesser known cuts scare you; a brief conversation with the fishmonger or butcher will give you all you need to know about how to handle their produce. They’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.


I cooked these cheeks quickly, in the pan, by flash frying, having given them a floury coating first. The salty, zesty butter was a lovely,  accompanying sauce and elevated these cheeks to be dinner party worthy.


I served them alongside some lemon sole and some summery salads as a main course for our guests, but with a garnish of rocket, they’d make an elegant starter, somewhat familiar to scallops, without the hefty price-tag.


So here you go: a sophisticated but simple dish with an indulgent buttery sauce. Don’t forgo the capers either, they give a bit of zing that brings the whole dish to life.

But forgo the kids if you get the chance.

This dish will taste a lot better if they’re in bed.

Pan Fried Cod Cheeks with lemon and caper butter (serves 4)

  • 2-4 cod cheeks per person (depending on whether this is for a starter or main)
  • 1 tablespoon of seasoned flour
  • dash of rapeseed or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • half a lemon, juiced and zested
  • handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • Toss the cod cheeks in the seasoned flour and set to one side
  • In a saute pan, heat the butter along with the oil (to prevent burning) until the butter is foaming
  • Add the cod cheeks to the pan and fry until nicely caramelised on one side, then carefully flip over and add the lemon zest and juice
  • Add the capers (drained and chopped if large) and add more seasoning if necessary
  • Take off the heat, stir through the parsley and serve straight away

(N.B cod cheeks have membrane running through them, which needs to be removed – it isn’t difficult, though you can ask your fishmonger to do this for you.)


3 thoughts on “Pan fried cod cheeks with caper and lemon butter

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